With exactly what the promised Protect Duty legislation will mean for the events industry remaining unknown, the pandemic leaving a deficit of security staff, and events worldwide seeing some alarming audience behavioural trends, the security sector has its hands full.

Event security providers would argue that there has never been more reason to review and enhance event security procedures, personnel, training, and systems. Looking at the stark evidence of worrying audience behavioural trends globally, and with Protect Duty approaching, it certainly seems wise.

Eric Stuart (pictured) is the owner of crowd management specialist Gentian Events Limited, chair of the United Kingdom Crowd Management Association (UKCMA) and a director of the Events Industry Forum (EIF).

A hugely experienced security professional, Stuart says he is very concerned by the number of deaths the international events industry has seen in the past two years compared with the past 20. He provides a long list of tragic events, including the 151 killed during a Halloween celebration in South Korea, two police officers being among 11 victims of a crowd surge at a Congo stadium show, more than 45 killed at an Israeli religious festival, 10 deaths after a stampede at the Astroworld festival in the US, and 125 dead after a crowd crush at an Indonesian football match.

“Then you have two big near misses in Europe,” says Stuart. “The Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium was officially classified as a near miss in terms of multiple fatalities, and I think the Paris Champions League Final that saw the use of CS gas in a dense crowd should also be counted as a near miss.”

Stuart has found that there has been a distinct change in behaviour at events since the pandemic subsided, largely because people have been housebound for so long. He says that among the by-products of the lockdowns is that young people lack experience of how to behave in crowds.

“They haven’t had that familiarity with the pack and how to behave in that environment, so we’ve seen some real aggressive and extreme behaviours resulting from an apparent sense of intolerance and entitlement,” he says.

“Everybody’s had a rough deal for two years and been treated badly by the Government, and now when they come out they don’t want anyone telling them what to do. There’s a real challenge now for security and stewards because people are continuously questioning their authority when asked politely to do things.”

Chris Kemp (pictured right), CEO of Mind Over Matter Consultancy and professor of Crowd Management at Edinburgh Napier University, has years of experience in risk management and crowd safety. Among his recent projects has been working with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to conduct behavioural analysis of crowds at its events following violence at cricket matches.

“The Government has even talked recently about a tick box form for counterterrorism threat assessment.” Eric Stuart

A concerning crowd behavioural trend that Kemp has seen at events this year has been a sharp rise in the consumption of alcohol. In some cases, he says the increase in drinking has resulted from organisers incorrectly balancing commercial gain with safety considerations.

He has also found event operators are taking impressive steps to control audience access to booze, and therefore create safer event environments. Says Kemp, “Some of the organisations that we’ve been working with have incredible structures in place. If you take cricket, they control how much alcohol is sold depending on how the crowd is behaving; so they reduce the number of pints bought at any one time by slowing the queues down between innings.”

Stuart, who is also the chair of the Global Crowd Management Alliance (GCMA), regularly speaks to event security specialists worldwide. He says there is a belief among many involved in the GCMA that much of the poor behaviour at festivals during the summer resulted from participants having watched the Netflix documentary Trainwreck: Woodstock ‘99. Over three parts, the series shows how Michael Lang’s attempt to reprise his famous festival brand results in utter chaos, including widespread rioting and arson.

“There’s a theory that a lot of the younger generation have seen that film and decided that if they don’t like what’s going on at a festival, they’re going to copy what happened at Woodstock ‘99. I’m quite convinced that it has influenced behaviour at events this year,  as does almost everybody I speak to. The film came out at the start of the summer, and suddenly we saw a sharp rise in fires at events, things being smashed, security being challenged and people stealing from stalls at a level we haven’t seen before.

“My inclination with our work is to avoid at all costs blaming crowds and people’s behaviour and instead look at the root causes. In the main, the root causes are Covid related; pent-up aggression, frustration with being controlled and told what to do by a Government it transpires weren’t behaving themselves. It’s a whole raft of societal issues, people are fed-up. Ultimately, it has led to behaviour that we’re finding really challenging to deal with on event sites.”

Controlled Events founder Rob Walley has worked on events including The Boat Race and the Platinum Jubilee this year. He says when trying to prevent crowd control issues, communication between all event staff is key, whether it is creating briefing cards for them or a WhatsApp group that provides all with incident guidance.

“The person who the event attendee meets first is usually traffic management or a steward; someone at the furthest corner of the event. They’re the people that tend to get paid the least and briefed the least, they may or may not even have a radio, but they’re often our first eyes and ears to a problem so it’s vital they are engaged and advised.”

Short change

The pandemic left many event industry workers looking for alternatives as the work dried up, not least security personnel. Michael Kill (pictured) is CEO of the Night Time Industries Association and chair of the UK Door Security Association. The latter organisation conducted a survey of its members in 2021 that found personnel resource levels had fallen to 80% of the pre-pandemic level.

Kill says the Security Industry Authority (SIA) has reported record numbers of applications for door security roles but they do not give a true picture of active badges or usage. He believes there is a major issue around the quality and retention of security personnel.

He also airs frustration about the SIA Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS): “The current security supply sector has some issues not only within the Private Security Act itself, but with the current systems in place around standards, both for operatives and supply companies.

“At present, the current system has created a disparity in taxation, where ACS-accredited companies must have each operative on PAYE, whereas non-accredited businesses, which are not registered and not tracked by the regulator are able to use UTR self-employment schemes to maximise financial position and be more competitive.

“Some of these businesses are subject to tax avoidance, devoid of training and standards, are not subject to internal training or vetting and continually utilise the UTR position to undercut accredited businesses on rates, with many supporting uninsured operatives and open to poaching staff directly from competitors on cash-based terms.”

Stuart agrees that a lack of experienced security staff is a huge issue facing the live events sector.

“Most events got closer to making their required numbers this year than we expected, but only because of massive last-minute recruitment drives of brand-new people to the industry,” he says. “Many of them came in, realised what they were up against, and didn’t like it very much. Whether they were good or bad, they lacked the years of experience in the industry that teaches them how to speak to people, how to recognise challenges and nip problems in the bud. Numbers-wise it’s not as bad as we thought, but experience-wise, it’s absolutely dire.

He expects the problem to impact the events industry for at least two more years and says that in order to encourage the right kind of people, and retain them, the security sector must work to create career paths for its employees, and year-around job security.

Happily, Kemp says there is positive work going on to educate a new wave of event security personnel: “There’s a lot more people coming on courses, and more companies getting involved, we’ve seen it right across the board. Everybody is starting to invest in this area because they see it as really important, they know that when Protect Duty comes in they will need people who have a certain skill level to be able to implement measures and monitor what’s going on.”

Protect Duty

In March, on publication of the results of an 18-week consultation on the proposed Protect Duty legislation, the Government said it would mandate the inclusion of anti-terrorism measures at all UK venues with a capacity of more than 100. On 10 May, Protect Duty took another step toward becoming law when it was confirmed in the Queen’s Speech.

Figen Murray (pictured), mother of Martyn Hett who was one of 22 people who died in the 2017 Manchester Arena attack, has since the tragedy been pushing hard for increased anti-terrorism measures at publicly accessible facilities such as venues.

“I need the industry to say to Government, ‘stop messing around, we need this legislation’.” Figen Murray

Her years of campaigning have led the Government to promise to introduce Martyn’s Law, also known as Protect Duty, but exactly what it will consist of and when it will be introduced remain unknown.Murray says, “I get everything from people coming up to me and saying, ‘you’re great, you’re inspirational’, to standing ovations at events. That’s all great, I really value that, but that’s not what I’m doing this for. I want change.

“I have become a figurehead for this, which is something I didn’t expect when I started the petition all those years ago, but just being the figurehead is not enough. The time has now come for change. I need the industry to start becoming vocal, not just me, I need the industry to say to Government, ‘stop messing around, we need this legislation’.”

Stuart says he has seen Protect Duty’s slow progression toward becoming law draw to a standstill in recent weeks: “It’s significant the regular calls that we have with the Home Office, over what Protect Duty is going to look like, have been cancelled for the past couple of months because they simply can’t make progress. They can’t make progress because Government is in disarray, ministers are changing, but they also can’t make progress because of the really difficult challenges involved – like what is a competent person when it comes to making a security assessment, who is responsible for the last mile zone leading up to a venue and what is a publicly accessible location?

“The Government has even talked recently about a tick box form for counterterrorism threat assessment. So, if you are a small venue, you can just complete an A-to-Z tick box form about your terrorism risk assessment.”

MP Tom Tugendhat, who was appointed Government minister for security on 6 September, has informed live music industry federation LIVE (Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment) that it is committed to bringing forward a draft Protect Duty bill this session as soon as parliamentary time allows. That means it could be spring 2023 before the draft is issued.

The bill is expected to reflect feedback from previous consultations with event industry organisations and associations. Once the draft is published, further feedback will be considered before the final bill is presented to Parliament later in 2023. It would then likely take up to six months to get through Parliament, and once it has completed all the parliamentary stages it would be ready to receive royal assent and become law, probably in late 2024.

While the industry waits to see exactly what Protect Duty will look like and what its impact will be, much is being done behind the scenes to prepare for it. The LIVE Protect Duty group was established to help coordinate the live music industry’s response to the Home Office consultation. It meets as and when required to review progress and take soundings on aspects of the proposals with a view to ensuring that the resultant legislation is effective and workable. The group is made up of representatives from across LIVE’s 14 member associations, with venue and festival industry association members being prominent.

With the predicted inspectorate and lengthy guidance that will also need to be created before Protect Duty is implemented, LIVE CEO Jon Collins says that the industry isn’t hanging around waiting for the legislation before it acts.

“We need to make sure we get it right; fast legislation is often bad legislation,” he says. “In the meantime, venues are still subject to the Licencing Act and Health and the Safety at Work Act. They have been putting their own policies and procedures in place, working with security leaders to make sure they are operating to the highest standards and looking to minimise the potential for another Manchester-style bombing. The time it is taking to put legislation in place should not be interpreted in any way as people not feeling like it is a priority.”

Walley says that while everyone waits for Protect Duty, the lessons from the Manchester Arena Inquiry are available for all and he agrees there is much event organisers can do in partnership with security teams, emergency services and local authorities. However, he found that during the summer events season the progress was hindered by the public sector not yet having fully shaken off the impact of the pandemic.

He says, “Event organisers often want to do the right thing but they haven’t always got an interface with local authorities and the Safety Advisory Group that’s proactive, it’s a matter of getting the job done because everyone is so busy and a lot of organisations in the public sector shifted their focus during Covid to other things because events weren’t on. As a result, your police planner, or your local authority events officer, were doing other things. There’s been a lot of churn in personnel, and institutional memory hasn’t really been maintained.”

While there has been hysteria about Protect Duty meaning airport-style security being introduced at venues of all sizes, Murray has maintained all along that anti-terrorism measures should be proportionate, but all venues should be involved.

“Once the legislation comes in, the bigger venues will be better equipped to put the security measures in place because they have the knowledge, expertise, equipment and the staff but the smaller venues need to be included because they are definitely terrorism targets, perhaps better targets because bad people know they’re not prepared.

“I know small venue operators are dealing with a cost-of-living crisis, they have suffered through Covid and some have gone bankrupt, but all we are asking is you train your staff, make some small changes and have a terrorism action plan.”